Welcome to
the

Suicide Museum

Self-Guided Tour Transcript

Intro

Welcome to the Suicide Museum. This self-guided recorded tour is made possible by a grant from KSI. At KSI, we put the fun in funeral.

Each segment of this recording is tied to an exhibit, all of which are clearly labeled with a letter and number. If at any time you wish to pause this recording, press the yellow pause button. To play again, press the green play button. To skip to the next exhibit, or to repeat an exhibit, use the blue arrow buttons. When you are finished your tour, please deposit your Flash recorder in any of the yellow bins conveniently located throughout the building. Flash recorders are not meant to leave the Museum. If you would like a copy of this recording, it is available for download on our website.

Lobby

The Galatian Suicide

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L1: The Galation Suicide
Let's begin with the artwork in our lobby. Dominating the center of the lobby is exhibit L1, a sculpture called the Ludovisi Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife, also known as The Galatian Suicide. Despite the cheesy 1970's-era moustache, this sculpture dates back to the second century BC. Our Gaul has already killed his wife, to keep her out of the hands of the Greeks, and is about to do himself in with his dagger. It's a pity, isn't it? Such a fine specimen of manhood.

You can purchase T-shirts and more with this iconic image on them in our online store.

It was not uncommon in ancient times for conquered peoples to choose suicide over slavery, and was considered an honorable alternative. One famous example is the 960 Jews of Masada, who killed themselves and their children in 74 A.D. rather than be captured by the Roman army.

You can still find this practice into the 20th century. At the end of the second world war the residents of the German town of Demmin found themselves cut off from retreat. Rather than face the invading Soviet soldiers, the townspeople committed suicide en masse, by means of drowning, hanging, wrist-cutting and firearms.

Suicide Party

Let's move on to the north wall of the lobby now, to exhibit L2, Tina Mion's painting A New Year's Party in Purgatory for Suicides in which Liberace makes a guest appearance down from heaven just for the hell of it. The title is almost as long as the canvas! There are 19 celebrities who committed suicide pictured in this painting. There's Sylvia Plath, looking a little grey from the gas in her oven, third from the left in the front row. Can you name the other 18 celebrities? I'll give you a hint: Liberace did not commit suicide. The guest list can be found to the right of the painting--remember to press pause while you hunt for those celebrities.

Prints of this painting, and all the artworks here in the Suicide Museum, are available in our gift shop.

Suicide Notes

Let's go back across the lobby to the south wall now, where we have framed prints of famous suicide notes. If you're having trouble reading any of these notes, you can find them, along with the many more notes we will see along the way, beautifully photographed and conveniently transcribed and translated in our limited edition book Notes from the Suicide Museum, available exclusively in our gift shop, Pandora's Box.

Beginning on the left we have an ancient Egyptian papyrus, labelled exhibit N1. It begins: "Death is by my side today, like a well-trodden way. Death is by my sight today, like the longing of a man to see home. I am laden with misery." Even the Ancients weren't immune to depression!

Next at N2 we see the work of Sergei Yesenin, a Russian poet who was married to American dancer Isadora Duncan. Yesenin penned his last poem the day before he hanged himself in 1925. The poem is called "Goodbye, my friend, goodbye." That brown ink he used? It's his own blood!

Ganto no kan
N3: Misao Fujimura's poem carved into a tree.

N3 might look like Japanese vandalism. After being rejected by his true love, Misao Fujimura also penned a poem before he committed suicide in 1903--but he carved his into a tree. It is a beautiful ode to despair and the meaninglessness of life. You can find the original Japanese and an American translation in the book Notes from the Suicide Museum in our gift shop.

George Eastman's last words, exhibit N4, are: "My work here is done. Why wait?" He really gets to the point, doesn't he?

At exhibit N5 we find an upbeat note from Clara Blandick, who you might know as Auntie Em from the 1939 film version of the Wizard of Oz. On April 15, 1962 she wrote, "I am now about to make the great adventure," before killing herself with an overdose of sleeping pills.

Kurt Cobain's famous suicide note, exhibit N6, was addressed to his imaginary childhood friend, Boddah. Cobain shot himself on April 5, 1994, devastating an entire generation of teenagers.

Last at N7 we have shock rocker Wendy O. Williams' note. She wrote: "I don't believe that people should take their own lives without deep and thoughtful reflection over a considerable period of time. I do believe strongly, however, that the right to do so is one of the most fundamental rights that anyone in a free society should have." Williams shot herself on April 6, 1998, after feeding the local squirrels.

The Kevorkian Room

And speaking of the right to die, let's explore the Kevorkian Room just to your left as you leave the lobby.

The Man

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Dr. Kevorkian speaking at UCLA. Photo by Gevorg Gevorgyan

The Kevorkian Room is dedicated to Dr. Jack Kevorkian, also known as Dr. Death, an activist who fought to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Born in 1928, Kevorkian was a physician, painter and jazz musician. Our first exhibit, marked K1, is a signed album cover from the band Acid Bath, which features Dr. Kevorkian's painting "For He is Raised." Do you know what the rabbits signify? Neither do I!

The Movie

Next to this is exhibit K2, a movie poster for You Don't Know Jack, Al Pacino's 2010 portrayal of Dr. Kevorkian's fight with the state of Michigan over assisted suicide laws. Beside this we have a photo of Pacino and Kevorkian signed by both men. The film won a Golden Globe, and two Emmys, and copies are available on DVD in our gift shop, Pandora's Box.

If you will turn around now, on the wall behind you is exhibit K3, a portrait of Dr. Kevorkian. The quotation under it reads: "If you don't have liberty and self-determination, you've got nothing. That's what this country is built on. And this is the ultimate self-determination, when you determine how and when you're going to die when you're suffering." Wise words from an American hero.

To your right now we continue towards the two glass cases, exhibits K4 and K5. Please note the inscription over the cases is another quote from Dr. Kevorkian: "My ultimate aim is to make euthanasia a positive experience."

The Thanatron

In the first case is Dr. Kevorkian's original suicide machine, the Thanatron, or "death machine." As you can see there are three bags on the machine, feeding into a IV line which would be hooked up to the patient. Dr. Kevorkian would begin with a saline solution to get the flow started. When the patient was ready, he or she could press the button, which would release barbiturates and sodium thiopental. This solution would put the patient to sleep. The patient's falling arm would switch on the third IV bag containing pancuronium bromide, which is a muscle relaxant, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. This machine was only used in two known suicides. It's practically brand new!

The Mercitron

Beside it at K5 we find the Mercitron, or Mercy Machine, which is elegant in its simplicity. It consists of a canister of carbon monoxide and a gas mask. It should be noted that the carbon monoxide can be a hazard to loved ones who eventually find the patient, and so this device should only be used in a well-ventilated location.

Both of these original devices are part of the Museum's permanent collection, a purchase made possible by a grant from Phizzer Pharmaceuticals. Phizzer Pharmaceuticals: working together to end human suffering. Plans for both these machines can be found in our gift shop.

Event Horizon

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E1: Figure from Event Horizon atop N New York building. Photo by Beyond My Ken (cropped)

As we exit the Kevorkian room, let me draw your attention to the statue to the on your left. This statue is from artist Antony Gormley's multisite art installation London in 2007. You may have noticed another Event Horizon statue on our roof when you arrived. Event Horizon consists of 31 identical statues. They were initially placed on rooftops in London, in prominent locations, and sparked quite a few calls to emergency services reporting potential suicides. The exhibition was taken to New York in 2010 and Sao Paulo in 2012, with similar results.

Faces of Suicide

Now, lets continue on to our Faces of Suicide exhibit. We are fortunate to have figures on loan from Madame Defarge's Wax Museum.

Alan Turning & Steve Jobs

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F1: Alan Turing Memorial

Our first grouping is Alan Turing and Steve Jobs. Turing is the one seated and eating the apple. Alan Turing is thought by many to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. After being persecuted for his homosexuality, Turing killed himself on June 8, 1954 by an unusual method. Obsessed with the story of Snow White, he poisoned an apple with cyanide and bit into it. No Prince Charming kissed him back to life!

A far more recognizable face in the computer world is Steve Jobs. Is it just a coincidence that Jobs named his company Apple and used an apple with a bite out of it as the logo? While Jobs officially died of cancer, his failure to seek treatment once he was diagnosed makes him a suicide in our books.

Sylvia Plath

Turn the corner and we enter a kitchen in a flat at 23 Fitzroy Road, London. It is 4:30 am on February 11, 1963, and renowned poet Sylvia Plath is on her knees contemplating the inside of her oven where she will lay her head and sleep the last sleep. Note that she has blocked the space under the kitchen door with a wet towel to keep her sleeping children safe.

Plath's poetry collections and her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar can be found in our gift shop.

Antony & Cleopatra

As you follow the passage to your right you will travel back in time to ancient Egypt, where Mark Antony and Cleopatra are killing themselves to escape capture by Augustus Caesar's armies. In good Roman fashion Anthony chooses the sword, just like our Gaul in the lobby. Cleopatra prefers the quick and effective poisonous snake bite. Women choose poison as their method of suicide twice as often as men. Women choose poison as their method of suicide twice as often as men. Isn't Cleopatra's dress gorgeous? See the maids on either side of her? They will also kill themselves rather than be captured. Those Romans! People were dying to avoid them!

Twenty Seven - Rock 'n Roll Heaven

Turn the corner again and you are have time travelled to the 1970s. Here we have our own rock and roll band, TwentySeven! Jim Morrison is writing lyrics, Jimi Hendrix and Alan Wilson play guitar while Pete Ham mans the keyboards and Janis Joplin sings.

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Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison of the Doors was found dead on July 3, 1971 in the bathtub of his Paris apartment. It was widely believed that Morrison drank himself to death. However, witnesses have since come forward to state that Morrison died after snorting heroin at a Paris nightclub, and his body was transported back to his apartment to avoid a scandal. Either way, it seems like accidental suicide. No autopsy was performed, so we will never know the real cause of death.

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Jimi Hendrix. Sculptor: Arkadiusz Latos. Photographer: Paweł Cieśla

Jimi Hendrix died after overdosing on his girlfriend's sleeping pills on September 18, 1970. It wasn't the drugs that killed him however--he aspirated his own vomit and choked to death. An ugly death for such a talented musician. Remember, if you are going to use sleeping pills, take enough to kill you and avoid Jimi's fate!

Janis Joplin seated 1970
Janis Joplin. Photo by Albert B. Grossman Management.
Janis Joplin, on vocals, was found dead October 4, 1970 in her hotel room at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood. She overdosed on heroin. It is impossible to say if this was an accidental suicide, or a an intentional one.
Peteham
Pete Ham. Photo by Matthew Wilkening (ultimateclassicrock.com)
Pete Ham on keyboards was a bassist and keyboardist for the band Badfinger. In 1975 Hamm hanged himself in the garage of his Surrey home. His suicide note read: "I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better. P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me." You can find this note, along with many others, in Notes from the Suicide Museum in our gift shop.
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Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson. Photo by Jolours
Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson, our other guitarist, chose to die quietly in the woods on September 3, 1970. He overdosed on barbiturates and left no note. This was not his first suicide attempt--but it was his last!

Why do we call our band TwentySeven? All of these musicians are members of the "27 Club"--they died at age 27, thought not all through suicide. Other members of this club include Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.

Sigmund Freud

Freud's ashes in Golder's Green Columbarium
Urn holding Sigmund Freud's ashes. Photo by Stephencdickson

Now we leave rock and roll heaven to enter the early 20th century London study of Sigmund Freud. Is suicidality really a mental illness? The Father of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud himself, committed suicide. Tormented by pain from cancer Freud died from an overdose of morphine with the help of his friend Max Shur on September 23, 1939.

Note the Ancient greek urn on display. This is the final resting place of Freud's ashes. Replicas are available in our gift shop, Pandora's Box.

This ends our Faces of Suicide exhibit. Please proceed to the second floor, to our Places for Suicide exhibit, by taking the stairway to your left, or the elevators, which are just past the stairs. Please note that our elevators have been in continuous service since 1979 with no inspections or maintenance.

Along the stairwell are many more suicide notes to entertain you. Please pause this player while you ascend.

Please remember that all our exhibits are funded by the generosity of not only our corporate sponsors, but people like you, through ticket sales, gift shop purchases, donations and bequests.

Places for Suicide

The Golden Gate Bridge

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Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by King of Hearts

Welcome to our Places for Suicide exhibit. Worldwide bridges are the most popular sites for suicide, followed by subway stations. The Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing, China boasts over 2000 suicides! Following at a close second, and far better known, is the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco. It is believed that if you walk between the towers of the bridge, and throw yourself into the waters below they will cleanse your soul of all pain and trouble.

As you traverse our scale replica of the bridge, you will see photos on your left of potential jumpers who have climbed over the rail and are standing on the 32-inch-wide ledge that runs along the side of the bridge. This ledge is literally the last step! Did the people in these photos jump? Take your guess! The answer is under the flap below each photo.

And why not try climbing over the railing and standing on that ledge yourself? After all, our replica is only 2 feet off the ground. Call it a dry run.

Please pause your player until you have reached the other side of the bridge.

Once you exit our Golden Gate replica--one way or another--follow the passageway right to our Jonestown exhibit.

Jonestown

Troolie cottages in Jonestown
Jonestown cottages. Photo from the Jonestown Institute.

"Jonestown," as it was called, began in Indiana in the 1950s, as an Apostolic-Socialist movement, lead by Rev. Jim Jones. In the 1970's the members moved to Guyana, to what was officially called the "Peoples Temple Agricultural Project". On November 18, 1978 the residents of Jonesetown, over 900 people, committed suicide, at Jones urging.

The mass suicide followed an investigation by California Congressman Leo Ryan. Ryan and his party were gunned down at the Port Kaituma airport just before the suicides began, bringing the death toll to 919 persons.

We will begin on the right, with the glass case marked J1. Inside this case are artifacts from Jonestown. The dried purple material in those cups and syringes is the remains of the actual Flavor Aid, poisoned with Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide and promethazine, used by ones' followers to kill themselves and theri childrenones' followers to kill themselves and their children. We often get asked if there is enough cyanide left in those artifacts to kill a person. Sadly, no, there isn't.

SF Chronicle, Nov 20, 1978. Photo by Joanne Fong.

Our next artifact, exhibit J2, is one of the drums used to mix up that Flavor Aid. If you are going to make enough poisoned soft drink for nearly a thousand people, you need to think big.

In the center of this room is our diorama of the Jonestown site, J3. Each body has been carefully reproduced in miniature and placed exactly where it fell, and includes men, women and children. The first to take the poison were Ruletta Paul and her one-year-old infant. They are marked with a small black flag numbered 1. Rev. Jim Jones himself is marked with a flag labeled J.

If you proceed now to J4, the headphone booths, you can listen in on Jones final broadcast to his members before the distribution of the deadly Flavor Aid. To convince over 900 people to kill themselves, he must have been a fine speaker. The full 44-minute recording is available in our gift shop, or it can be purchased and downloaded from our website. Please remember to pause this recording while you listen.

Did you enjoy Jones's broadcast? Next we have several reproductions of documents from Jonestown, including suicide notes. Item J5 is particularly interesting. It is a copy of the letter written to Feodor Timofeyev of the Embassy of the Soviet Union in Guyana, instructing him to transfer all of Jonestown's assets to the Communist Party of Russia, or the USSR, as it was known then. Despite the fact that the people of Jonestown had been overcrowded and laboring in the fields, the assets totaled 7.3 million dollars.

This exhibit is funded in part by Krapp Foods. At Krapp we want you to know that it was Flavor Aid, not our iconically named soft drink mix, that killed people.

Aokigahara - Japan's Suicide Forest

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Aokigahara Forest. Photo by Simon from Quebec, Canada

Our last exhibit in the Suicide Places collection is the Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan, also known as the Suicide Forest. This full-scale diorama is arranged in a ramp which will take you to the third floor, and fully wheelchair accessible.

To experience the eerie silence as you wander among the trees, please let this section of the recording finish before you enter Aokigahara.

Distributed through the forest are the remains of earlier visitors to Aokigahara who went there to end their lives, most by the quiet and peaceful means of hanging or drug overdose. Some are fairly fresh, some have been dead for decades. Please do not disturb their resting places, or take souvenirs. There are plenty available in our gift shop, Pandora's Box.

Our Places for Suicide exhibit is sponsored by D-Sheerer Scissors. D-Sheerer: sharp enough for life on the edge.

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

Did you find Aokigahara calm and restful? Our next exhibit is not for the faint of heart. To bypass this exhibit, please turn to your left, and use the blue arrow button to skip over the next recorded section. To enter our "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" exhibit, turn to the right.

Self-Immolation - Thich Quang Duc

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Memorial at the intersection where Thich Quang Duc immolated himself in protest against the Vietnam War. Photo by Esemono (detail)

There are many causes of suicide: depression, psychosis, religious martyrdom, and even simple accident. In the east suicide is often used as a protest. In our first exhibit, G1, on your left, we see Thich Quang Duc, who set himself on fire to protest the Vietnam war. Yes, those are real flames, so please stay behind the barrier. Our Duc is made of asbestos and will remain unaffected by the flames, unlike the real Duc. You can see what hppened to him on the video screen to your right. Self-immolation is one of the most painful ways to die, and Duc's composure is maintained thanks to years of training as a Buddhist monk.

Sepukku & Jigai

Hollywood's favorite method of suicide is wrist cutting. In reality, slitting the wrists is not very effective, and accounts for only 1.5% of successful suicides. It is much more effective to use a larger blade on more important arteries and organs.

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Samurai preparing to commit seppuku. Ukiyoe woodblock print by artist Kunikazu Utagawa.
Onodera Junai's wife preparing for jigai. Kuniyoshi woodcut, Seichu gishin den series ("Story of truthful hearts"), 1848
In exhibit G2 we see a samurai committing seppuku with his knife, called a tanto. He drives the blade deep into his abdomen and then slices. Seppuku was only for Samurai, and was part of an elaborate ritual that was performed in cases of defeat or dishonor, or meted out as a form of capital punishment. Once he's done disemboweling himself, the second, whom you see behind him, will decapitate him.

His wife, at G3, will commit jigai by slicing the arteries of her neck. She has already tied her knees together to maintain her dignity in death. Invading armies seeking women to rape and enslave would often find Japanese women already dead, their knees tied together in mockery of the invader's intentions.

Suicide Bomber

We turn the corner now to witness our Suicide Bomber animation, exhibit G4. This animation shows just what would have happened, in dramatic slow motion, if the Underwear Bomber had been able to detonate his bomb aboard Flight 253. Notice how the blast not only tears him apart, but those closest to him. Next people farther away are hit by flying shrapnel and bone. In the last few frames we can see that the airplane's hull itself is breached causing a loss of pressure that rips open the body of the airplane and sends travelers and luggage sailing earthwards. Talk about going out with a bang!

Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound

On to exhibit G5. Firearms are by far the preferred and most effective weapon for suicide and account for more than half of all successful suicides in America. During a 1974 newscast host Christine Chubbuck declared, "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in 'blood and guts', and in living color, you are going to see another first--attempted suicide." She then fatally shot herself in the head while on the air. Please pause this recording while you step into our small theatre, Film at 11, to view the footage of Christine's final moments.

Isokelekel

At G7 we have a depiction of the gruesome suicide of Isokelekel, a warrior king from 17th century Micronesia. Isokelekel bent over a young palm tree, tied it to his penis, and then let the sapling go. His penis was torn off and he bled to death. Surely, there are easier ways to go!

Mount Mihara

We move on next to our large-scale diorama of Mount Mihara on the island of Izu Oshima in Japan. Mihara is an active volcano which erupted in 1986 and 1990. Back in 1933, 21-year-old Kiyoko Matsumoto threw herself into the crater of the volcano, and started a trend in Japan. In the following year 944 people committed suicide at Mount Mihara. A fence was erected to prevent access, which had to be topped with barbed wire after another 619 people scaled the fence to successfully kill themselves.

Death by volcano is pretty much a sure bet. If the fall itself doesn't kill you, there are still contact burns, radiant heat and asphyxiation from volcanic gases.

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night is made possible by a grant from Smyth & Olive Firearms. If you're going to go, go in style!

This concludes your guided tour of the Suicide Museum.

But wait! You aren't finished yet.

Au Revoir Video Booths

Ahead of you are our Au Revoir Video booths, where you can record a farewell video message and send it to up to 5 email addresses. The video terminals are not included in your ticket price, but they take Paypal, Visa, Mastercard or American Express.

Our video booths are made possible by sponsorship from Borine Bleach. Borine: nothing gets out blood stains better.

Last Call Café

Fugu sashimi
Fugu Sashimi. Photo by Suguri F.

On your right is our Last Call Café, where amateur chefs serving community time for violent crimes prepare gourmet dishes, including our signature fugu sashimi, Bullfrog Namibian Syle, silver stripe blaasop and a wild mushroom omelet made from mushrooms gathered by the legally blind. And of course you will want a glass of grape Flavor Aid to wash it down with.

Pandora's Box

If you survive lunch please head back down to our gift shop, Pandora's Box, where you can purchase mementos of your visit today and gifts for loved ones. Our collection of music includes Donalyn's Music for the Dying, and our fundraiser K-Tel compilation album, with such suicidal hits as Ode to Billy Joe, Suicide is Painless, Paint it Black, Hey Hey My My and Baby Don't Fear the Reaper.

If you are a reader we have copies of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides and of course Romeo and Juliet, and Anthony and Cleopatra. Don't miss out on our limited edition Notes from the Suicide Museum, showcasing all the suicide notes we have in our collection with translation and commentary. We also have books for those younger loved ones, such as Where's Mommy? and Baby's First Funeral.

For the more practically-minded we have plenty of rope, blades priced from bargain-basement box cutters up to replica ceremonial Japanese tanto, a variety of poisonous chemicals, and plans for assisted suicide machines designed by Dr Kevorkian, Exit International and Philip Nitschke.

For all your purchases we provide a handy Exit Bag.

Interactive Exhibita black ticket for the Interactive Exhbit

If you have purchased a black ticket, and filled out all the requisite paperwork, you may access our interactive exhibit, though the black door on your right at any time. Please note that there is no exit from the Interactive Exhibit and visitors still alive at closing time will be gassed.

Remember that the Suicide Museum depends on sponsors and on the generosity of its visitors--there's still time to leave us something in your will.

Next Month

If you didn't purchase a black ticket, be sure to come back next month for Kamikazes of World War II. This educational exhibit is sponsored by 13 Knots Cords. 13 Knots: we'll give you enough rope.

Please deposit this player in the convenient yellow bin, and enjoy the rest of your life...however short that may be.